American Airlines Improves Basic Economy & Eliminates Select Change Fees


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United Airlines may have started the ball rolling by being the first of the major US airlines to eliminate change fees on domestic itineraries, but American Airlines has now taken the ball further by eliminating change fees on more routes than United or Delta and by making some significant improvements to its Basic Economy fares.

American Airlines Eliminates Select Change Fees

Following on from the news from United and Delta, American Airlines has announced that, effective immediately, it is eliminating change fees for First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy, and standard Main Cabin tickets for all domestic and short-haul international routes. This change relates to flights to/from/within the following:

  • Any of the 50 U.S. states
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

The only booking type to which this change does not apply is a Basic Economy booking.

In addition, this is what American Airlines has had to say about the value of the original ticket:

American will also allow customers to keep the full value of their original tickets if they change their travel plans prior to the scheduled travel. Although customers will have to pay the fare difference for a new flight, customers will not lose their ticket value if the new flight is less expensive. For example, if a customer paid $500 for their flight and change to a flight that costs $300, American will give the customer a $200 voucher to use for a future trip.

The changes to American’s change fee policy apply to cash/revenue and award bookings too.

American Airlines Eliminates Same-Day Standby Fees

From 1 October 2020, all travelers will be able to stand by on flights on the same day as their original departure for the same destination at no charge. This new flexibility extends to domestic and international travel, regardless of the ticket purchased so, essentially, this applies to all of American Airlines’ routes and all of American Airlines’ booking classes…including Basic Economy.

American Airlines Improves Basic Economy

From 1 October 2020, all American Airlines customers who have purchased a Basic Economy fare will have a lot more options when it comes to improving their onboard experience. All of the following will now be available for purchase prior to departure:

  • Upgrades
  • Priority boarding
  • Preferred/Main Cabin Extra seats
  • Same-day confirmed flight changes

Furthermore, “later this fall” AAdvantage Elite status holders will receive their full status benefits regardless of the fare they purchase and this will see them able to access the following:

  • Upgrade privileges
  • Elite seat privileges, including access to Main Cabin Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats
  • Same-day confirmed flight change benefit

However, as of 1 January 2021, Basic Economy tickets will no longer earn elite qualifying dollars, miles, or segments toward future status (as things stand, Basic Economy fares earn 50% of whatever standard Economy Class fares earn).

American Airlines Extends Change Fee Waiver

American Airlines may have eliminated change fees for domestic and short-haul international routes, but under non-Covid conditions change fees will still apply. Fortunately, American Airlines has joined United and Delta in extending the change fee waivers on its longer routes to bookings made by 31 December 2020. So:

  • Any First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy, Main Cabin, or Basic Economy fares purchased on or before 31 December 2020, for future travel will not incur change fees prior to travel. Customers must pay any fare difference, if applicable, and fare rules may apply depending on the ticket.
  • All AAdvantage award tickets are included in this offer.
  • Customers are allowed to change their origin and destination cities as part of this offer.

Thoughts

When Delta followed up United’s announcement that it was eliminating select change fees with an identical announcement of its own, it made it easy for people to surmise that Delta had been caught on the back foot and had to rush out an announcement to keep up with United. On the other hand, even though American Airlines was the last of the “Big 3” US airlines to come out and say that it was eliminating select change fees, the depth of the full announcement would seem to suggest that this was something American had been working on for a while.

Overall, there’s a lot of good news here.

The elimination of domestic change fees was already good news, but the fact American is also eliminating these fees on flights to/from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean is a big bonus for American Airlines customers. It’s even better news that, unlike United Airlines, American isn’t implementing a “use it or lose it policy” with regards to the vouchers it issues when a customer cancels a trip – not having to use the voucher in one go makes any voucher that American Airlines issues considerably more versatile and a voucher issued by United.

The announcement that American Airlines will be eliminating same-day standby fees matches what United has said (so far, Delta has not made any mention of eliminating standby fees) but with American eliminating the charges on 1 October, it’s flyers will be able to make the most of this rule change three months before United flyers will be able to do the same – that’s good work by American.

Last but not least it’s worth commenting that the changes coming to Basic Economy bookings are a net positive. Yes, some will be disappointed that Basic Economy fares will no longer earn elite status credits, but the ability for elites to now make the most of their benefits on American’s cheapest fares outweighs that loss – I know that I’d much prefer to be able to guarantee myself an exit row on a Basic Economy fare rather than earn an insignificant number of elite status credits – and the ability for non-elites to be able to choose to improve their onboard experience by paying for extras it a good move too…and one that may well make American Airlines quite a bit more money.

Bottom Line

American Airlines is eliminating change fees on all domestic and short-haul international routes with immediate effect. From 1 October 2020 same-day standby fees will be eliminated and customers purchasing Basic Economy fares will be able to upgrade their experience by paying for extras like upgrades and seating. Later this fall (no date has been given) all American Airlines elites will be able to make the most of their status regardless of what fare they purchase but as of 1 January 2021, Basic Economy fares will no longer earn elite status credits.

I like these changes – what do you think? 

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